StAnza’s Saturday events started off with an energetic discussion on the Breakfast at the Poetry Café live webcast. Before attending any of the events, I had hoped to have a fully immersive experience, and I was in no way let down. Panellists Lisa Kelly, Kate Tough, and Greg Thomas started a conversation with the host Eleanor Livingstone about the meaning of ‘Make it New’. With the chance to hear individual poetry readings, and the panellists’ opinions on the current age and consumerism – it was a conversation I felt lucky to be involved in. The ‘Make it New’ topic is extremely relevant to life in lockdown, and gave a whole new perception to the way life has changed since the pandemic. It’s not every day that you get to hear poets read their own work, comment on society, and bring a new insight to the somewhat stale subject of the pandemic.
Next up in the Poetry Café, was Courtney Conrad’s recorded poetry readings. Her focus was on poetry including black, queer, Christian, migrant, womxn identities. Conrad would introduce us to her work ‘What is fi Mama a fi Everybody’ and ‘Girlish’ – the gift of hearing these intimate poems read aloud by their creator was not unnoticed. After each reading, Conrad would give further context to the piece: where she wrote it, what she was thinking, how her mindset has changed now, and what she wishes we take away from it. She urged her readers to live their lives for themselves, no one else, because she believes that to be a disservice. To hear Conrad’s wisdom and reassuring affirmations throughout her poetry reading was an unforgettable moment for me.
The importance of affirmations, and having a safe, creative space was later touched on at Poets at Home with Malika Booker. Booker, through a pre-recorded video, shared her living space and where she writes. She shared where she sits, where she naps, and where she gets inspired. I think everyone in lockdown at the moment is having particular difficulty being inspired, maybe struggling to sleep, or even to sit still! Seeing a member of the writing community in her workspace, giving her tips and tricks to feeling calm and improving her health in order to excel in her writing was tremendously comforting.
Reaching out to others is important now more than ever, and so when I called up the ‘Dial-a-poem’ phone numbers to hear a pre-recorded poem, followed by a live call and poetry reading, I was moved. StAnza’s ‘hotline for poetry’ felt like a warm hand reaching out in a time of challenging isolation. I got through to Katie Hale, who after pleasant conversation, told me a poem about her first kiss; she read ‘In the yellow library where in 2004 I had my first kiss’.
Later that night, I joined Rachel Long, for ‘Poetry at Bedtime: Between the Covers’. Through a voice recording, Long read her poetry aloud from her bed, to me in mine. While Rachel Long’s poetry was pre-recorded it felt very present – a perfect end to the day.
Conversation is an art which we have all managed to keep alive over lockdown, despite the many struggles. The art of flourishing community spirit, and healthy conversation is something I felt in abundance at StAnza’s Festival this Saturday.